Name Rater

Have you ever wondered how pony names somehow always accurately relate to the identity of the pony in question? Well, that's all thanks to the efforts of one stallion. And he hates his job.
Name Rater has always had a very unique skill: the ability to gauge the talents of others at a glance. And once this became known, everypony began to depend on his guidance, much to his chagrin. This is his story, a tale of great self-sacrifice and even greater grumpiness.

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4. The Return

Thoughts long left dormant percolated back into Name Rater's mind as he left Sugarcube Corner. Memories of times past, memories that once filled him with joy, now only produced feelings of sorrow. He had moved beyond his grief, but now things had changed, and with these changes came reminders of what should have been.

His life was not his own.

He trudged aimlessly into town, head down, in an attempt to distract himself. Name Rater watched as ponies trotted this way and that, running errands. He spotted foals rolling around in the grass.  He saw everypony's smiles. If anything, he felt worse for observing.

"Name Rater, wait!"

The voice came from behind. It was Applebloom. He ceased moving, and the filly soon skidded to a stop next to him, followed by the others. They looked up at him with moistened eyes.

"Ah'm so sorry; Pinkie didn't know," Applebloom said.

Sweetie Belle sniffled. "Please don't be sad."

"Maybe we can get you a bran muffin? A sugar free one?" proposed Scootaloo.

Name Rater stared at the fillies, frowning slightly. Then, he closed his eyes. "It's fine. Let's just go eat dinner."

They each nodded in quick succession, though the looks they were flashing him suggested disbelief. With that, Applebloom, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo each trotted off in silence. He followed, trying to clear his mind by focusing on his breathing and hoofsteps. It didn't work for long; the intrusive thoughts just wouldn't go away.

And so, he walked behind the fillies, helpless as images from within superimposed themselves onto the small figures in his mind's eye. Tears would have come, but his had dried up long ago.

After a time that felt far longer than it took for him to journey to Appaloosa had passed, Name Rater was led to a wooden gate. Through the gap in the fence it provided they stepped, passing rows upon rows of trees. White flowers had blossomed on each, and soon each would transform into a juicy fruit.

Set atop one hill among many, Applebloom opened the door to a bright red farmhouse. "We're back, Granny!"

The mare who replied sounded old, even by his standards. "Come on in, y'all, suppa's almost ready."

Name Rater waited for the others to eagerly zoom inside, lured by the enticing aroma of home cooking, before following. At first glance, the interior of the home was far more reminiscent of those he was used to, and more memories threated to assert themselves before he shook off the feeling and proceeded into the dining room.

Seated at a wooden table with room for eight were three ponies he recognized and a fourth he did not. He was a massive red stallion name Big McIntosh, and the fur around his neck looked scuffed, as if he had recently been yoked to something. The stranger nodded as Name Rater sat down at the end of the table.

A few moments later, Applejack walked in from the other doorway, balancing a tray of steaming dishes on her back, followed by an old, green mare - Granny Smith. She reached over and placed it on the middle of the table with her mouth, and the both of them sat down, the latter with some difficulty.

"So..." led Applebloom.

Applejack's ears perked up a bit. "Oh, right. Name Rater, this here's Granny Smith, and my brother, Big Mac." They smiled at him, and he did his best to return the favor.

"Thanks again for letting me stay here," Name Rater said, with limited enthusiasm.

"Oh, it's no problem at all, sonny," replied a jovial Granny Smith. "We gots plenty o' room here on the farm."

"Eeyup," added Big Mac.

There was an awkward silence. Scootaloo motioned to the food, mouth watering.

Granny Smith rolled her eyes. "Alrighty, y'all, dig in!"

With that, they took turns spooning cheese grits, beans, and steamed carrots onto their plates. Only after the Crusaders claimed their portions did the others serve themselves. Name Rater took about half as much of each dish as everypony else.

He ate in silence, losing himself in the savory goodness. The Apples talked about what they did that day, and the state of the farm, while the fillies bounced awful event ideas off of eachother.

After the amazing apple pie which capped off the meal, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo said their goodbyes to him and the others before running home to be with their own families.

Granny Smith hobbled towards the stairs. "Well, Ah'm off. G'night," she reported.

"'Night, Granny," replied a smiling Applebloom.

"Sleep well," encouraged Applejack.

As she ascended, Name Rater failed to stifle a yawn. "I'm gonna turn in too. It's been a long day."

Applejack chuckled. "No kiddin', go right ahead."

Before he left, Name Rater noticed that Applebloom had lowered her eyes. He placed a hoof under her chin, lifting up her head. Her stoic expression likely matched his own. He sighed.

"What happened at that bakery wasn't your fault, don't beat yourself up anymore over it," he reassured.

The corners of her mouth turned slightly upwards. "O-Ok."

Nodding at her satisfactory reply, Name Rater showed himself out.

The barn seemed cozy enough, not too smelly, and a bed of hay had been prepared for him. A quilt sat folded atop it, and his things were stacked next to a crate on the far wall. Covering himself with it, he snuggled into the hay and closed his eyes. Sleep did not come immediately, but his restless thoughts were eventually quelled as his body succumbed to exhaustion.

Whether he dreamt or not, he couldn't say.

 

*  *  *

 

Name Rater rose at the crack of dawn, as he always did. He awoke mentally reset to his usual, grumpy self. Working the kinks out of his neck and the crud out of his eyes, he took in his unusual surroundings and quickly recalled the hectic circumstances of yesterday. Shawl draped over his back, Name Rater proceeded over to the Apple residence, stopping at the outhouse on the way.

Breakfast went by about the same way as dinner did, but the food had switched to flapjacks and the atmosphere seemed much less tense. Once she had finished eating, Applebloom declared her intent to go crusading with her friends, and was waved goodbye by Granny Smith. As Big Mac set off to work, so too did Name Rater.

Applejack, who was currently clearing the plates, shot a curious glance at him. "Where do ya think you're goin'?"

Without turning back, he replied. "To do my job."

He imagined she raised an eyebrow at that, but nevertheless didn't question him about it as he moved back to the barn to fetch his equipment.

Supplies now on his back, Name Rater looked around the barn for a table, but there wasn't one. So, he just sat himself down next to a stack of wooden boards and placed the necessary items on top. Popping the stopper off of the squat ink bottle, he pulled out the first of many images for the day.

As he settled into his long-established groove of naming foals, something about the task felt different to him from usual, and it wasn't just the surroundings. He hadn't felt this way in quite some time. Perhaps he was... fulfilled. Yes, that was the word.

However, once his work was finished, Name Rater remembered what else he was going to do today, and his mood soured. For today, he was going to meet with royalty.

 

*  *  *

 

The crystalline castle loomed above Name Rater, in all its blue and purple glory. The sun's rays bounced off of its multifaceted surface, producing an annoying glare. A door much taller than necessary was less than a stone's throw from where he stood. And, since he wasn't a rock farmer, this wasn't very far at all.

"Whatcha standin' 'round for, Name Rater?" asked Applejack as she held the massive thing open with her flank. "Y'all aren't one o' them 'genuflecting' types, are ya?"

He snorted. "No, it's just that... I suppose this has been a long time coming."

"Then get a move on, sugarcube!"

"...Right."

Composing himself, Name Rater placed a hoof through the gate, and then another. Soon, he was walking alongside Applejack through the cavernous, extravagant halls. With each step, his expression grew more and more stern. By the time the two of them had reached what looked to be a study, his wrinkled face had adopted a look blending equal parts anger, dread, and resolve.

Beyond the archway, Name Rater spotted Twilight Sparkle. She leaned over an oak table, reading. As well as the book, upon the table sat a candle, a notepad, and no fewer than three quills and three inkwells. The rest of the room appeared to contain nothing but more books, threaded into numerous shelves.

She didn't even notice the two of them had entered until Applejack coughed rather loudly.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, snapping to attention. Twilight turned around, sliding off of the stool to greet them. As the princess approached, Name Rater noticed that she was, indeed, an alicorn. Though, she wasn't nearly as physically imposing as the two sisters were. In fact, Name Rater was nearly sure that her muscle tone was actually worse than his was. Though, her destiny was magic, so he supposed she didn't need it.

She smiled warmly at Applejack, then at him. "So, you must be Name Rater. I'm Twilight Sparkle." This was followed by an offered purple hoof. Name Rater took it, and they shook. Twilight either didn't notice his dour expression, or didn't make a visible fuss about it. "Applejack says you're new in town, and wanted to talk with me about something, correct?" she inquired.

Name Rater paused, then shook his head. "Sort of. I was hoping you could bring me to see Celestia and Luna."

Twilight's brow creased. "Couldn't you have just appealed to her at Day Court like everypony else?"

"And why didn't ya say so earlier?" added an equally confused Applejack.

He groaned. "I didn't know where they'd be these days, and I wasn't sure if..." he trailed off. "Ugh. Forget it. It'll be easier if I just show you."

"Show me what?" Twilight asked.

Name Rater closed his eyes, reached back with a hoof, and ripped off the shawl.

When he opened them, both mare's eyes had nearly doubled in size, and their pupils had shrunk down by a comparable amount.

"WHAT IN TARNATION?" belted Applejack as she leapt backwards in shock.

Twilight had frozen in place, dumbfounded. "I--you--alicorn--why--what--how--huh?" she stammered.

Name Rater sighed. "Well? Can I meet with them or not?"

A single strand of hair popped out of alignment from within Twilight's mane. She blinked. "I'll be right back," she stated. From her tone, she seemed to be trying very hard to keep calm.

Her horn then began to glow brilliantly before she vanished with a shower of sparks.

As Name Rater's eyes lingered on the spot where there stood a mare mere moments ago, Applejack shook her head back and forth quickly. She tentatively approached.

"So..." she started. "You have wings."

He turned to face her. "Yes."

Applejack paused, straitening her stetson. "Did Applebloom know 'bout this?"

Name Rater nodded. "I'm surprised they managed to keep it a secret for a whole day."

"Hmm. 'K then."

For a minute, they both just stood there. Applejack scratched the back of her neck awkwardly.

"Twilight just teleported, right?" he asked her.

"Uh-huh. She'll be back in a bit, Ah reckon."

Name Rater didn't bother to reply, he merely acknowledged with an understanding glance.

Applejack took a deep breath, probably in preparation to ask another question, but she stopped when Name Rater gave her a look. He would bring everything out in the open once the only ponies who knew him were here. Getting the idea, she stepped back.

And so, they waited.

 
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